A man, Walter Echo-Hawk, stands at a podium while giving a speech.
Walter Echo-Hawk with the Center for Great Plains Studies gives a lecture, “Reckoning and Reconciliation on the Great Plains: Healing Historical Harm Caused by Conquest and Colonialism,” at the E.N. Thompson Forum on April 6, 2022 at last year’s session. This year’s session of speakers will also focus on healing, community and finding solutions. Courtesy photo.

There is no shortage of problems in this world, and the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues is again working to highlight solutions with this season’s session of speakers.

The E.N. Thompson Forum is a partnership between the Cooper Foundation and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It brings in experts to give lectures about world issues and how to tackle them in the community. The forum always has a diverse group of speakers, which have ranged from Nobel Peace Prize winners to journalists to artists to scientists to authors and to entrepreneurs.

“These events reach across the university and the community and really help amplify the resources that we both have,” Cooper Foundation President Victoria Grasso said. 

The Cooper Foundation is an organization that makes grants to nonprofit organizations in Nebraska in the areas of the arts, civic and community engagement, education, environment, human services and humanities. Former Cooper Foundation President E.N. “Jack” Thompson conceived the idea of bringing a forum of world issues to Nebraskans in 1988.

“He had a deep interest his whole life about global issues. So, it was this idea of bringing a speaker series where people would come to Nebraska and talk about global issues and issues related to specific countries or regions,” Grasso said.

Since its beginning, the forum has brought over 150 speakers to Lincoln and has tackled topics including democracy, religion, immigration and more, Grasso said. Some of the most prominent speakers include former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and the human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bono.

“All global issues affect us here,” Grasso said. “Giving us that ability, locally, to really connect with people who understand and can share their perspective on global issues, I think, has had a really important impact on Lincoln.”

During this season of the forum, the speakers will focus on finding creative solutions to global challenges. Grasso said she is looking forward to hearing all the knowledge the lecturers have to share.

“When I leave one of these events, I always feel like I’ve really gotten an insight into something, even if I thought I knew or was interested in it before, I feel like I’ve really got a good insight that I didn’t have before,” Grasso said. “I think it’s because we really focus on bringing in people who have real expertise and a strong point of view.”

The first lecture in the series is the Governor’s Lecture in the humanities, which Candice Millard, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, gave on Sept. 28. She discussed human connection in the midst of challenges and used examples from the books she has published.

Millard said it took her about five years to write each of her books, which is largely a solitary process of research and discovery. After all that she has put into her work, she said it is fulfilling to be able to share her stories with others through events such as the E.N. Thompson Forum.

“It’s just a great honor,” Millard said. “One of my personal heroes, David McCullough, also gave this lecture. Just to be invited to give a lecture that he also gave really, really means something to me.”

Tyler Riewer is the creative director for charity: water, a nonprofit organization that has funded more than 111,000 projects to provide clean water to more than 15 million people.

He is a former UNL student, and he said he is looking forward to returning to Lincoln. He said he remembers finding value in listening to speakers as a student, so coming back as a speaker himself will feel full circle for him.

“I hope to make people feel powerful in helping to change the narrative instead of powerless. No circumstance defines a person,” he said. “I’m really excited to share some stories and hopefully reframe the way people think about the world.”

His lecture, “The Craziest Thing We Can Do is Nothing,” will focus on instilling empathy and appreciation for all the positive efforts going on in the world and highlighting inspiring stories he has witnessed through his time with charity: water.

“There’s so much heaviness and pain and drama in the world already, so hopefully, this feels like a little dose of a brighter future,” Riewer said.

Tickets are free and available on the E.N. Thompson Forum website. Grasso said they are also typically available at the door on the day of the lecture.

The lectures are streamed online on the E.N. Thompson Forum website and can be watched on Lincoln City and Education TV channels or listened to on the UNL radio station, KRNU 90.3 FM.


Sept. 28, 2022: Candice Millard, who has published four New York Times Best Sellers, will present “A Clear and Steady Eye: Storytelling and Our Shared History”

Oct. 11, 2022: Dr. Ali S. Khan is dean and tenured professor of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health and retired assistant surgeon general. He will present “Putting the Public Back in Public Health.”

Nov. 7, 2022: Tyler Riewer, the creative director at charity: water, will present “The Craziest Thing We Can Do is Nothing.”

Jan. 23, 2023: Martha Schwartz is a landscape architect, urbanist and climate activist. She is a tenured professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the founder of MAYDAY, Earth. She will present “The Urban Landscape and The Future of Cities.”

March 28, 2023: Jane Chen, co-founder and CEO of Embrace Global and recipient of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year title, presents “How Design Thinking Saves Lives- Lessons on Innovation, Leadership and Resilience.”